The Longest Wheelie

Many of us have fond memories of childhood bicycle antics, way back when life was far more simple. Most of mine include three of my closest childhood friends, Brian Salerno, Joe Russo and Bryan Stanton. There were mud bogs, obstacles, jumps, demolition derbies, bloody wounds and epic daylong rides, all on homemade BMX and road bikes, and gutsy choppers with fork extensions pressed loosely into place. I can still remember us modifying my Huffy LeGrande ten-speed, with its thin little tires and delicate white paint, then ripping through our local forest long before the term mountain biking was coined. We were all doing it, although we didn't really understand what "it" exactly was. A rolling freedom from grownups and chores I suppose. It just felt right. It was creative, challenging and fun, and we couldn't get enough of it. It was perfect. It was magical. All of it. Liquid Wrenching rusty bolts, muddy trail fixes, spray can paint jobs, trading stem and handlebar pads, but most of all, our friendships. Friendships based around carefree cycling, and the challenge and peace of the outdoors. Expressing ourselves on two wheels at a time when drivers’ licenses and cars were still far out of reach.

Sure there were others that came and went but we four were at the core of this bicycle daydream, and at the center of the center was the most talented dreamer of us all, Bryan Stanton. Bryan rode the fastest, jumped the steepest ramps, built the coolest bikes and pulled the longest wheelies. Bryan was also the ladies’ man (boy) of the group. The envy of us all. Most importantly, he was a great friend who would do anything for his buddies.

Now fast forward...well let me see...thirty-six years or so. I find myself traveling to the famed Allegrippis Trail System in West-Central Pennsylvania for a much needed solo cycling getaway and potential tribute ride. I had just completed a local fundraising cycling event that morning, riding my modified bicycle for ninety minutes standing up, without a saddle, for Safe Haven of Pike County. I train and tour this way for fun, for the added challenge, often as a tribute, and to raise awareness for special causes under the umbrella of Team Standing Cyclist. Five hours and three cups of coffee later, I needed to find a spot to camp and get geared up for the next several days of riding. I didn't have a definitive goal or time limit for my Standing Allegrippis Epic. Deep inside I felt this should be a tribute ride of some sort but I was exhausted and unfocused before even beginning, and decided to roll on loosely, remain open and just experience...the experience. Just ride in the present moment and see what happens, I thought. The next three days would prove both grueling and liberating. Some locals I met along the way called it crazy. Riding a single-speed, fixed-gear, seatless bicycle on the roller-coaster trails of Allegrippis. Huh? One brake, skinny tires and no coasting. No rest, much like trail running. In fact I measure my "rolling" (a cross between running and cycling, as I've come to call it) in running terms. At Allegrippis, I would end up rolling the equivalent of three one-half marathons off-road, over thirteen miles, each day for three consecutive days. I had never attempted something quite like this. By the morning of day two, I didn't know what would break first, my frame, my rims, my body or my brain. Would my Allergic Asthma take me out? Fear started to play into the mix. There were some long, gut wrenching sections where I seriously doubted my ability and stamina. I had considered bailing out and heading home more than once.

That first day, I still hadn't decided quite how to view this trip. I considered possible tributes and came up with nothing that stuck. Later about halfway into day two, however, I began to just let go. I decided to stop searching for a tribute, and simply let the tribute find me, if it was even meant to. As it turned out, it did. It wasn't a sudden epiphany. It was more of a gradual unfolding. A feeling of fun and friendship slowly surrounded me. I was deeply inspired, as I was when I was ten. I found myself thinking back on Bryan Stanton and what he had indirectly taught me about cycling, adventure, perseverance, camaraderie, courage, strength and freedom. I wasn't trying to think about anything at all, except maybe not flying off the trail into a tree. The right thoughts and feelings were finding me as I suspected they eventually would after finally letting go. What I didn't expect was that I would be sharing this particular epic with the bold essence of my old friend. I couldn't resist my wishful thinking. I imagined us flying between those trees and over those roots and rocks, shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel, just having a blast. He would have loved that forest, the winding trail, the amazing view of Raystown Lake, the sheer speed, and I suspect my ridiculous lime green seatless fixed-gear bike. Whatever fear and doubt I had experienced earlier, was now long gone.

For the remainder of that trip, both under the stars back at camp and riding more trails come sunrise, I was honored with the memory and energy of a childhood inspiration. Bryan inspired me at a young age to ride and live fearlessly, by riding and living fearlessly himself. As a tribute to him, I will try to do the same each day and along every mile of my own journey. Both as a child and a man, he inspired many others in the way he carried himself, remained positive through adversity, and served others. Even through the hardest of hard times, through chronic illness, pain and exhaustion, he wouldn't complain. It simply wasn't his way. Bryan has since moved on to a bigger place.  I believe it’s a place where the trails are fast, smiles are plentiful, and wheelies go on forever.